Gov. Haslam exonerates Wilson County man wrongly convicted of rape

Photo: WKRN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A Wilson county man waited nearly 40 years to hear one word that could change his life: exoneration.

It’s been a long road for Lawrence McKinney, who was wrongfully convicted of rape and burglary back in 1978.

He served 31 years in prison, before the Shelby County District Attorney determined he was innocent, based on DNA test results that were not available at the time of his trial. They set aside his conviction and released him from prison in 2009.

RELATED: DNA clears man 30 years after Memphis rape, burglary case

Since then, McKinney has twice asked the Parole Board to exonerate him, but they refused both times.

On Wednesday, Governor Bill Haslam reversed the Parole Board and granted McKinney’s request. This is a first for Haslam. Here is his full statement:

“Today I granted Lawrence McKinney’s request for gubernatorial exoneration from his 1978 convictions. Though the facts of this case are complex and reasonable minds may draw different conclusions from them, ultimately I respect the determinations of the Shelby County Criminal Court and District Attorney General that Mr. McKinney was not guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted and would not have been prosecuted if the DNA testing results had been available at the time of trial.  Mr. McKinney was released after more than 30 years in prison when the court set aside his convictions in 2009. 

“In the eyes of the judicial system, Mr. McKinney is innocent. While I appreciate the hard work and recommendations of the Board of Parole, in this case I defer to the finding of the court charged with determining Mr. McKinney’s guilt or innocence.”

Exoneration clears McKinney’s name and opens the door for him to ask for compensation. After 31 years in prison, he may be eligible for up to $1 million.

MORE: Exoneration not recommended for man who served 31 years for crime he didn’t commit.